Sunday, April 16, 2017


The 5th annual Newcastle Writers Festival may have been the best festival so far. The program was a great mix of big stars and fascinating unknowns. 

As a Librarian and a lover of books, writing, words, and reading I was well in my element. But a festival like this is something else, it blows your mind with ideas and things you hadn't previously thought of. Or maybe you had been thinking of but it takes you in directions that hadn't come to mind yet.

Yep, just sitting in a session and taking in all the interesting and intellectual information, and ideas and thoughts the panelists, whether writers or readers, have to say. That is pretty much my idea of heaven.

I'm a deep thinker, a conversationalist, and a dabbler in writing. I have many projects going at once, most I keep to myself. I find festivals like this a great place to add to my long list of ideas, and to blow open ones I have been sitting on but not quite done much with. I choose my sessions carefully to gain these outcomes.

As soon as the following years dates are announced (at the end of the current festival) I block out my diary for that weekend! Then when it becomes known I list in my diary the launch date and patiently await the program so I can go through it with a fine tooth comb. I do the same for SWF.

I swooned at the 1-2-3 punch of Leunig, Roxburgh, and Moss this year. But I also was drawn to many of the free and unknown sessions.

So the time came to head to the beautiful Civic Theatre for opening night with Michael Leunig and Caroline Baum. We sat through the interesting and important opening night speeches. This gorgeous festival is the baby of Rosemarie Milsom, and these thank yous are indeed important for her and for our community involved in the set up of such an amazing weekend. It's their Oscars!

Over the years each opening night has been great, but National Treasure, Michael Leunig was something else. It lifted the evening into a stratosphere that may be difficult to top next year. But maybe I am biased, I have loved Leunig a long, long time.

In a time that is fraught with unknowns, and political unrest like now, where the news is a constant force of things that make you (me) stabby, people like Leunig stand out and just make you feel better.

His musings, philosophies, poetry and truly genius cartoons show a man with an unusual and stunning brain. A man who is gentle and kind, profound and philosophical, melancholy and thoughtful, whimsical and wonderful. The world could learn a lot from what he says and what he writes.

I felt my soul fill with love and my heart warm by listening to his view on the world and life. It was a great start to a great weekend.

Then, of course, every Saturday should start with Richard Roxburgh, cheeky and intelligent, and showing us there is a lot of Rake in Richard. He spoke about his writing, his family, travel, the latest play with Cate, his love of libraries...

Wait, what!?! My heart grew enormous, thinking how can I love this man anymore than I already do!? He was generous in his love of libraries, although they could be quieter, lol!!  This is clearly a tuned in and clued up dude!

He was cheeky and generous and knew his power of appeal without being a dick about it. Why can't all men have this ability of realness!?!

I then had a couple of hours break before my next lot of sessions. I checked out the Art Gallery exhibits nearby, went for a walk, indulged in Popolo Gelato, and bought a new pair of shoes!

And then I was back for 4 back-to-back sessions, all of them intriguing and interesting.

The first was In Harm's Way, exploring the impact of violence. It had Suzanne Leal, interviewing Michael Sala (I have just finished his latest book which was really good), Sarah Armstrong, and Emily Maguire - who I fell in love with. I love her no nonsense sass and her fierce intelligence. This is a topic that is important to me and a project I have been working on for a while, but getting nowhere, so I like to hear how others approach it, it helps me move a long a little more. Such important topics take time and should not be written about thoughtlessly.

After that was the amazing Steven Amsterdam talking with Caroling Baum about his new book, The Easy Way Out, about assisted dying. I cannot wait to read this book about such an important topic.

Rebellious Daughters was the best of the four, with Lee Kofman (glorious lady) interviewing three of the authors she choose for the book she edited called, Rebellious Daughters. Caroline Baum, Leah Kaminsky, and Susan Wyndham all recalled being asked to contribute, and how they drew stories from their past to be included. It was funny, sad, and poignant.

Musical Notes with musicians/novelists Peggy Frew and Holly Throsby chatting to Anneli Knight about the change from writing lyrics to their first novel, juggling the writing with real life, and where to next. Holly finished the session with a lovely acoustic song.

After another small break, I caught up with friends and we headed to Tara Moss in conversation with Tracey Spicer.

This was a fantastic session where both women were fierce and formidable and truly wonderful role models. Tara was amazing and kind and genuine, and a more intelligent woman I've yet to meet. It was all about the sisterhood, equality, and feminism, and most importantly having your voice heard.

Sunday was less full on with three amazing sessions, starting with Ashleigh Wilson talking to Sarah Johnson from Newcastle Art Gallery about his amazing work on Brett Whitely. I have this book at home and cannot wait to commence it. It is a really balanced and true reflection on Brett, the man and the artist.

The middle session was Two Worlds: the relationship between heritage and identity with Deng Adut, Roanna Gonsalves, and Alice Pung talking to Ruby Hamad. What a fascinating group of people and important words to be listened to. The key theme, simply executed by Deng, was you don't want refugees, don't have war. So bloody simple, yet so far away...frustrating!

I finsihed the weekend with the wonderful, The Importance of Women's Voices with Emily Maguire, Sara Mansour, Tara Moss, Tracey Spicer, and Jane Caro. What a superb panel of inspiration. Stand up and be heard was the clear message and when someone cannot...pass them the mic!!!!

You learn so much from weekends like this and honestly I am still processing al I have learnt.

The main things I took away was: have a voice, have a go, stand up and be listened to, everyone deserves their say, the world should be impacted less by our differences and indeed brought forward by them, get rid of war, share our experiences, listen to others...especially those different to you. Be kind to others, you will always learn from other people's experiences, open your heart to love and kindness.

The other thing I love about the festival is the sense of inclusion by others you meet. I always go solo, so I can do my own thing but usually meet friends for key sessions. However, I am never alone, I run into many, many people I know. Or have conversations or exchange looks of knowing with those sitting near me, people I have never met, but who are kindred spirits.

My three favourite exchanges of the weekend were as follows.

I overheard Tracey Spicer in the bathroom, prior to her conversation with Tara Moss chatting to an acquaintance of mine. She was a little anxious, I came out and my friend said I would be there. I smiled and said I would and I couldn't wait as I knew they both would be wonderful. She smiled a little, put at easy, to know someone as amazing as Tracey would have nerves made me realise we are all the same, no matter how popular you are!

I also ran into Rosemarie Milsom on the Sunday, she looked surprisingly relaxed and happy and was keen to hear my experiences. I was happy to share, she seemed relieved to hear a good story. I get that, you want the people to love what you put out there, and we do. We do so very very much!

My final exchange was not one of words, but one of a knowing glance. I walked out of the Art Gallery that Saturday morning, happy and smiling, as Michael Leunig was walking in. I so desperately wanted to say something, hug him, ask for a pic, but I did not. There is something about his lovely soul that I just didn't want to bother, we exchanged knowing smiles, and for me, that was better than anything i could have asked for. A smile from my whimsical hero.

And so my brain is overflowing, my notepad full of more ideas, my soul satisfied, and my heart full to the brim. Until next year, or at least the SWF, where I will do it over and over again!

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